MARSHA Stoneley is 49. She lives in Acremead Road, Wheatley with her husband Brian. The couple's three children have all grown up. Marsha was happily working as a phychiatric nurse in Enstone when her husband first noticed a change in a mole on her back.

Here she tells her moving story, which acts as a warning to all sunworshipers - the suntan you'd die for may do just that to you. "I hope by telling my story it might go some way to help people treat the sun with the respect it deserves," said Marsha. I have no recollection of when the mole on my back first appeared.

I thought I had always had it, so when my husband, Brian, remarked that he thought it had got slightly bigger, I laughed and said it was because I had put on so much weight, it had grown with my body.

However, that same week - in August last year - I had to attend the Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital for physiotherapy following a problem with my back at work.

During the inital assessment the physiotherapist said: 'You know you've got a mole on your back. You should get it checked out'.

On a visit to my GP to discuss the sciatica, I mentioned the mole on my back.

She examined it and told me she would refer me to the Churchill Hospital's dermatology department.

The doctor, a senior house officer, was nice and friendly.

"Right then, let's take a look at this mole," he said. I lifted my shirt and there was complete silence. I turned around to see if he was still there. He muttered something about getting a second opinion.

Another doctor came to view the aberration and suggested a punch biopsy. Two weeks later I got a letter from the doctor saying the results from Histology had not shown any evidence of malignancy, but there were a few abnormal cells. He recommended the lesion be excised completely.

Even at this stage, I didn't take any of this seriously. Sun had been mentioned a few times by the medical staff and I laughed and dismissed this completely.

Then I remembered Jamaica when I was in my early twenties. I was so determined to have the most amazing tan that on my first day in Montego Bay I sunbathed for five hours without any sun-screening protection whatsoever.

The result was the most hideous sight you have ever seen.

I looked like a lobster with large blisters right down one side of my body from my head to my toes.

But that was a long time ago, I told myself, I have been much more sensible over the last 20 years, surely that would never have been the reason - would it?

I arrived at Dermatology on the due date and went straight into their small operating theatre. This time I had six local anaesthetic injections. I laid on my stomach and tried to think of nice things - holidays. No! mustn't think of anything related to the sun.

Thirty minutes and nine stitches later and it was all over, or so I thought. A few days later, the telephone rang. It was the female registrar from the Churchill Hospital. A nauseous feeling gripped my stomach and I sat down heavily on a chair. "I would like you to come and see me as soon as possible to discuss the further treatment that you are going to need," she said.

I croaked out weakly "What do you mean? What is the problem?" She then informed me that the Histology results had shown that I had a malignant melanoma and further treatment was essential.

I felt physically sick and kept shaking my head to myself in bewilderment. I felt fine, absolutely fine, so this could not be true. The dreaded diagnosis of malignant melanoma struck a chill through me such that I will never forget.

A week before Christmas I had my appointment with the consultant plastic surgeon at the Radcliffe Infirmary who examined the lymph glands in my groin and under both arms.

He said: "Malignant melanoma is potentially extremely serious, but we have a very good success rate. You will still only need a local anaesthetic, it's just more extensive than you had before," he said.

Oh, my poor back! I still had the nine stitches in from the last time.

On December 30 last year the deed was done.

This time the cut was deep as well as wide and the dissolvable sutures would remain in place for six months.

On Thursday, January 15 , I had a follow-up appointment with the consultant plastic surgeon. The results were clear.

Today, my scar has healed well, but I have had to give up nursing at present. I contacted the National Helpline for Melanoma and Related Cancers (MARC's helpline number is 01722 415071), and they were most impressed with the treatment I received at the Oxford Hospitals.

I have also received support from the Cancer Information Centre at the Churchill Hospital. It is early days yet, but I remain hopeful about the future. Facts

Skin cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK, with more than 40,000 cases and 2,000 deaths each year

There are six new female cases to every four male cases

During the average person's lifetime, 50 per cent of UV radiation occurs in the first 20 years. UVB rays are the ones which can cause skin cancer. UVA rays are responsible for premature ageing

In the age group 15-34, malignant melanoma is the third most common cancer in women and the seventh most common cancer in men

Between 1974 and 1988 the number of new cases of malignant melanoma rose from 1,732 to 4,438 - an increase of 156 per cent. In Scotland, between 1974 and 1990, the number of cases rose by more than 240 per cent.


Shift to the shade around noon

Take care not to burn

Cover up and wear a hat at all times

Use a high factor sunscreen - with both UVA and UVB - on exposed skin

Use sunscreen when in the garden or out and about.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.